Here’s what an aerial wildlife survey looks like from the air.
This morning, I finished up an aerial wildlife survey with a client. It was the seventh day of this work I had this month. We only flew for 90 minutes. Our goal was to comb through an area with scattered bunches of ponderosa pines, looking for bald eagle nests.
Last night, I prepped by downloading an app called GPSTrack for my iPhone. This $1.99 investment “allows you to use the GPS receiver in your iPhone or iPad to show your current location and create a log of your travels.” It can show a map of your track as you travel, updated in real-time. The resulting tracks can be exported via e-mail in GPX and KML formats.
Basically, it turns your iOS device into a moving map geologger.
I gave it a whirl for the first time this morning. As the helicopter was warming up, I turned it on and enabled tracking. Then I stuck the phone into my shirt pocket and flew. Ever once in a while, I pulled it out to take a peek and, sure enough, it not only laid down my track as I flew, but it had a trip computer that totaled miles and calculated current and average speed.
I flew for about an hour and a half, following the directions of my clients. That consisted of a lot of zig-zagging and looping around. I followed electric lines and flew around lakes. I flew up and down drainages and along cliff faces. My speed varied from about 30 to 80 knots. I flew over 130 miles, all within an area 10 miles wide by ten miles long.
We looked at the tops of a lot of trees. (We saw three bald eagles — one of which had just caught a fish and was eating it on the shore of a lake — but no nests.) When we landed back at the airport, I turned off tracking. Later, I took this screen shot of the completed track.
I also exported the track by tapping a button and sending the two track files (GPX and KML) to myself via e-mail. Opening the KML file on Google Earth resulted in an image like this:
And here’s a closeup of some flying around one of the lakes. (No, I wasn’t drunk; just following instructions.)
Overall, I’m extremely impressed with the app. It did a far better job than I expected and was well worth the money I paid for it. In fact, I’m thinking that right about now, companies like Garmin and Magellan should be getting pretty nervous — it wouldn’t take much to add features to this app that match those in something like my Garmin GPSMap 60cx. Add the ability to tap and add waypoints and anyone with an iPhone (or iPad, for that matter) that includes a GPS wouldn’t need a standalone GPS unit anymore.
The only thing I’d like to see with this software is a different map — topo or terrain. I have very little use for road maps and don’t like the level of detail in satellite images when shown at the magnification for speeds I fly at (usually around 100 knots). I put in a request to the app’s author and he responded that it was on his list of things to do. I bet that if he sold a lot more copies of this app, he’d be motivated to keep improving it. (Hint, hint.)
If you give it a try — or have tried other similar software you like — take a moment to use the comments form or link to share your opinions. I’m always interested in GPS-related software.